What should we do to contain the Rawlingses?

Mon, 12 Jul 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

July 10, 2010

Events concerning former President Rawlings have raised several disturbing questions, some of which various social and political commentators have already answered. Others remain unanswered while many more are yet to surface. One bothersome question is: What should we do to contain Rawlings?

Mind you, with all that he encapsulates, Rawlings has a lot of experiences that the country can still profit from. He is relevant today as he was in the past, but the problem is that he doesn’t know how to make himself available to be used. In his posture, therefore, he emerges as a sphinx to be feared instead of being used to meet the exigencies of our circumstances. That is what worries me most.

Rawlings seems to believe that he is more patriotic than all Ghanaians put together. If that is the case, I refer him to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus from where he will learn what such run-away unbridled patriotism does to the individual. Should we try to contain him at all? If we cannot get him to fall in step and behave as all former Heads of State are supposed to, what should we do (to him)? Write him off like a bad debt or develop tough skins to soak up the pressure from him while making sure that he doesn’t do anything to subvert our democracy?

I want to share my thoughts on this Rawlings “menace” with readers, not because I am so much fixated on the Rawlingses but because their circumstances continue to cast a long shadow over our national interests, which is the crux of the matter that bothers me. I want to believe that readers will bear with me as I ruminate on these bothersome issues. I will base my thinking aloud on this proverb: “The fish that can see the water getting shallower cannot be stranded.”

Rawlings is not a fish in any watery world, but his circumstance reflects the moral in that proverb. It is now clear to me that Rawlings chafes at losing his hold on power and can’t bring himself to submit to the authority of others as is expected of the over 23 million constituting the Ghanaian citizenry. From his attitude to former President Kufuor and the current one, I am convinced that Rawlings has failed to see the water getting shallower around him and is now stranded. He is at pains to accept the fact that two lions cannot rule in one valley; hence, the seriousness of the problem he poses.

This Rawlings jinx is not a new issue but I want to rehash it for discussion within the context of the threat that it poses to our country’s democracy. For whatever he might be, he still continues to attract attention, whether for weal or woe. And for as long as this trend continues, we have the bounden duty to sustain the discourse on him. We have just aired our views on the latest issue of “homelessness” of the Rawlingses; but what we have left undone is to examine the deeper-level issues surrounding the Rawlings jinx and its impact on the country.

I am worried because the kind of militancy with which Rawlings ruled the country, which his wife also uses to run the operations of the 31st December Women’s Movement—and which they still uphold— seems to be at odds with the contemporary Ghanaian political knack. It is clear that President Mills’ government is not interested in this militancy nor will the NDC’s political opponents enthuse over it. What it means is that the revolutionary fervor of the Rawlingses has no place in the current political dispensation, which has made them aggrieved; and feeling isolated from mainstream Ghanaian politics, they have become hostile and are using their militancy to create more problems than we want.

Their recourse to criticisms against President Mills’ style of governance began as hard words but is now assuming different dimensions altogether, especially with the manouevres going on to present President Mills as incompetent and incapable of instilling hope in the NDC’s followers. We are all witnesses to the agitations by the NDC’s so-called foot-soldiers and open disregard for the President’s appointees. These pockets of resistance are propelled by militancy, which is nurtured by influences from the Rawlingses.

Rawlings’ critics are quick to point to some of his inadequacies as human rights violations, outright disgust for his opponents (be they politicians, chiefs, the clergy, or whatever), plain talk (even if regarded as uncouth in language use), and his brutal military no-nonsense approach to handling issues (especially his physical assaults on personalities working with him (e.g., the one on the former Vice President, Kow Nkensen Arkaah in December 1995). Others blame him for lacking adequate academic training to understand the intricacies of problems and, therefore, ruling in a manner which has stalled the country’s economic growth. They think that he is to blame for the country’s woes because he couldn’t use his long term in office to move the country forward.

To his admirers, on the other hand, he is a hero to be worshipped. They cherish him as speaking for the voiceless majority of Ghanaians who have borne the brunt of incompetent governance over the years. They see him as a saviour and will do all they can to remain loyal to him. To such people, he is still “Junior Jesus,” not the “Junior Judas” that his detractors portray him as being. Rawlings is propped up by that kind of loyalty.

This boiling cauldron of mixed feelings toward Rawlings is itself a big puzzle. The verdict is simple: Rawlings is endorsed by his admirers (who are the ordinary mass of Ghanaians regarded as underdogs) but dressed down by his detractors. Wherever he faces, he presents something puzzling. With this Janus-like posture, Rawlings is enigmatic and continues to give the country a tough assignment in trying to contain him. Let’s remember that he had already been a thorn in the flesh of previous governments headed by Acheampong/Akuffo, Limann, and Kufuor.

In fact, when the Kufuor government began taking stern action to try to contain Rawlings, he evoked genuine sympathy among his admirers, who felt that the Kufuor government was bent on crippling him in order to destroy the NDC. This apprehension was confirmed by utterances from the NPP’s leaders, especially J.H. Mensah, that by the end of Kufuor’s first term in office, the NDC would be dead. The NPP’s massive campaign of demonization, which its hirelings in the mass media overzealously carried out, hurt the Rawlingses and the NDC’s image; but Ghanaians who were worried that the NPP was trying to entrench itself in power by such backdoor means, rallied to Rawlings’ side. These draconian measures taken against Rawlings backfired politically and rather courted public sympathy for him, especially when discontent against the Kufuor government’s performance took the centre-stage of public discourse.

The most chilling issue in all this drama was Rawlings’ allegation that the Kufuor government had hired mercenaries to assassinate him. We were even given to understand that some unknown armed persons once trailed Rawlings on his way to his Vume resort but were outwitted at the Kpone barrier when his ever-alert bodyguards detected their moves and lodged a complaint with the security post at that barrier. Rawlings survived all that psychological torture (just as he had done under the Limann government) and is still alive today.

Being alive today doesn’t mean that he is content with the situation. The return to power of the NDC created the impression that Rawlings would be at peace with himself and his own party’s government. Alas, it was not to be so! He is not at peace with this government nor does he want its members and his opponents in the NDC to be at peace. The puzzle thickens further at this point.

We can testify that Rawlings began blowing hot air not long after President Mills moved to the Osu Castle, criticizing the membership of the Transitional Team and moving into top gear thereafter to create the impression that President Mills himself was not up to the tasks. We know of his “greedy bastards” invective and the “Team B” label, which culminated in his claim that judging from the inability of the Mills government to deliver the goods, he did not know what message of hope to give Ghanaians before the 2012 elections. His anecdote on “Atta the Mortuary-man” at the NDC’s Tamale congress may have deeper meanings than the superficial inferences that we have drawn from it. You, be the judge!

At the centre of Rawlings’ vitriol is his discontent at President Mills’ reluctance to take drastic and prompt action to investigate, prosecute, and punish members of the NPP government despite his insistence that such a measure was imperative. That’s what his militancy entails; but President Mills wants to use other approaches. In effect, Rawlings seems to have given up on President Mills and his government.

If that were all, there would be little to worry about. He has extended his disaffection to where it will hurt President Mills most: the inner circles of the NDC, where we now know that there are clandestine manouevres to present someone (Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings?) to challenge him for the NDC’s flagbearership slot for the next general elections. Some critical voices from the Rawlings camp have even been heard cautioning President Mills not to declare his intention to contest the general elections as the NDC’s flagbearer because the time was not ripe for such declarations of intent. Who can’t discern the harbinger?

Still, the puzzle thickens. Initial expectations that the Vice President (John Mahama) would take over from President Mills, if he is lucky to retain power at the next elections to serve two terms by 2016, appear to be threatened by what is unfolding. The relationship between John Mahama and the Rawlingses is not the best, as has been known over the years. What it means is that more fuel is being added to the wrangling and factionalism problems of the NDC.

I don’t think that Rawlings lacks counsel. He has people whose advice should have influenced his post-office behaviour by now; but it appears that he doesn’t just heed advice. He is determined to be what he wants to be in the public sphere. If that’s the case, then, no amount of suasion (whether through what we write about him, the pieces of advice from those close to him, or his own personal reflections—if he does so) will rein him in. In that sense, then, should we just allow him to continue burning his energy as he’s been doing all this while in the hope that he will become exhausted and pipe down, after all, knowing very well that we can’t (or shouldn’t) gag him?

I have heard some of his haters call for his assassination, which is the height of morbid stupidity. Others recently made faint-hearted attempts to arouse ill-feeling against him and to suggest that they were gathering evidence on his atrocities to approach the International Criminal Court for him to be tried just as has been done to Milosevic and Charles Taylor, among others, on charges of human rights violations. That line of action has yielded nothing so far to suggest that the burden that Rawlings has imposed on us will be lifted through systematic measures to contain him.

At the home front too, some claimed that they were mobilizing relatives of victims of the Rawlings rule to initiate action against him at the law courts. Nothing has happened so far. Kufuor’s National Reconciliation Commission was expected to deliver the coup de grace; but it couldn’t nail him down unlike what Chile and Argentina are doing to former government officials. All seemingly legal and official means to neutralize the Rawlings “menace” have yielded nothing. He is still up and doing, probably because he is indemnified by the Transitional Provisions of the 1992 Constitution.

Indeed, it appears that he will continue to be a thorn in the flesh of the system and those with whom he locks horns. He is in his 63rd year and still full of the venomous militancy that launched his political career. He still has his bite because of the massive support that he commands. Make no mistake about that reality. I can’t imagine what will happen if he suffers any calamity that is not caused by natural forces.

Against this background, how should we contain Rawlings? Should we just find ways to stomach the venom he spits and pretend that it doesn’t turn our crank in any way at all? Or should we bow to pressure from him to give him all that he wants (which might even lead to his return to the corridors of power to call the shots)? Or should we just leave him to stew in his own militancy? As is often said, when someone wants to carry the whole world on his shoulders, just give him a pad, stand by, and watch him.

I end this rumination more puzzled than when I began. Indeed, this Rawlings “menace” doesn’t seem to be ready to abate any sooner, which leaves us with the question: What should we do to contain Rawlings? Have your say, dear readers.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.